More isn’t always better when programming for hypertrophy. Here’s exactly how to prescribe muscle damage on an individual level to keep your clients’ muscle growth coming.
Personal Trainers and Strength Coaches: a question for you. When a client’s hypertrophy stalls, what do you do? The default prescription might be to add in even more more training. Weak glutes? Do an extra glute session per week. Hit a bench press plateau? Lift heavier? Squat weight stalled? Squat more often.
But is this “more is more” approach really the best way to solve the problem? Not necessarily.
Here’s how to take a smarter approach to programming muscle damage so your client can get past that hypertrophy plateau without burn out or injury.
There are three mechanisms for hypertrophy, and muscle damage is probably the most misunderstood and misused of them all. Get it right (by understanding how to apply the optimal level of exercise-induced muscle damage), and you’ll create just enough muscle damage to stimulate muscle growth without making the client so sore or stiff they have to skip training. But get it wrong, and you can program too much muscle damage, hindering muscle growth and potentially having a
What Is Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage?
Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage (EIMD) is caused by resistance training. When you place tension on muscle, small tears can occur, triggering a physiological cascade, with inflammation signaling your body to repair damaged muscles and connective tissues.
How Does EIMD Create Hypertrophy?
EIMD is crucial to hypertrophy, because it starts the physiological process of Inflammation, which increases the activity of satellite cells (muscle stem cells) to grow and repair muscle tissue.
But there can be a downside to chasing EIMD. If your programming causes a client to “overdose” on exercise, the body's ability to create new muscle can be inhibited. This can lead to a level of damage that will have a positive, negative or zero-sum result.
And insufficient muscle damage simply won't stimulate satellite cells enough for muscle growth.
How Can EIMD Stunt Muscle Growth?
Most typical gym jocks get caught up in the “more is better” mentality (we’ve probably all been guilty of this at some point!) It kind of makes sense: more stimulation should equal more muscle growth, right? The truth is counterintuitive, but it’s important to get it right.
The problem is, “more is better” means you’re potentially putting someone in a state of chronic inflammation. This impairs recovery, which then affects the client’s ability to train at the appropriate intensity and frequency - and actually make the gains they are striving for.
How To Recognize Chronic Inflammation
- Decreased force production (can’t increase intensity to create a new stress response)
- Increased muscle stiffness and swelling (unable to move at the full range of motion or to train at all)
- Delayed-onset muscle soreness (commonly known as DOMS)
- Increased stress response (abnormal elevated heart rate from the moment they wake up or after the first few reps, and increased lactate production)
- Increase inflammatory markers (too many markers being circulated in the bloodstream)
As a Personal Training or Strength Coach, your responsibility is selecting the correct level of damage to trigger the inflammation process based on how the individual responds. Not too much, and not too little. How exactly can you do that?
How To Use Muscle Damage For Hypertrophy
You can manipulate the severity and level of damage by primarily focusing on three variables: contraction type, intensity, and volume. Each one will create a different response in an individual client’s physiology. Understanding (and delivering) the proper dosage will allow you to work with their body and maximize on how it naturally adapts.
1. Contraction Type
There are three types of muscle contraction, and each one will give different levels of damage.
- Concentric (when you accelerate a weight
- Eccentric (when you decelerate a weight)
- Isometric (holding fixed positions)
All types of contractions will give muscle damage and muscle growth, but eccentric contraction gives the greatest anabolic response. This is because eccentric contractions can handle loads roughly 20-50% higher than concentric contractions, and this allows heavier loads during exercise. Also, we can generate 45% more force with eccentric movements versus concentric movements, and double that when compared to isometric training.
Intensity means the amount of load moved. If the weight your client lifts is close to a perceived maximum, or if the load is closer to a 1-rep max, this will equate to a higher intensity. The intensity of the workout directly affects cumulative damage. The higher the tension from excessive loads, the greater the structural damage to muscle cells
This is the most misused variable for attempting to damage (and grow) muscle tissue. Have you ever gone on vacation and stopped training, then stepped straight back into your regular training volume? You end up stiff and sore for days - or weeks - right?
This is because the volume has exceeded your body’s ability to manage it (due to your time away from training), and this brings about a higher degree of inflammation. This also explains why your novice clients need to have their volume closely managed.
Volume and muscle damage work in parallel. Workouts performed with more training volume give a greater degree of muscle damage, and as volume increases so does the damage.
Our Goal As Personal Trainers And Strength Coaches For Hypertrophy Clients
As a trainer or coach with hypertrophy clients, remember these programming keys: prescribe contraction types, intensity and volume effectively, to bring about enough muscle damage without exceeding the body's capability to repair. To write a really effective and individualized hypertrophy program, you must use the correct type of contractions combined with the ideal intensity and volume.
DEMAND = CAPACITY
- Know the contraction type you’re using. If you’re selecting more potent types that cause more muscle damage, then adjust intensity, volume and amount of recovery time accordingly.
- A heavy focus on muscle damage is not recommended for novice trainees, because they do not have the ability to repair and recover quick enough between sessions.
- Dosing depends on the client’s ability to recover. Slamming a novice trainee to the ground will inhibit their ability for hypertrophy, but a trainee who has a higher training age might need that in order to progress.
Are you ready to learn how to dose the right amount of EIMD to help your clients get better results (and avoid a plateau)? Check out the DTS Hypertrophy Fundamentals course - it covers the comprehensive science behind hypertrophy plus details exactly how to program, assess, and adjust. Get rid of the guesswork and recognize what your clients need to progress.